M A R H A B A !
Welcome to Kuwait!
If the title caught your attention, then most probably that you have plans to make Kuwait as your new home. Maybe you just got your new work contract for a new job here or you have been relocated for a new assignment. Whatever your reasons, Congratulations! you are now a legit Expat. Consider yourself lucky because Kuwait is a popular destination for Expats. One, its ideally located near Africa, the Middle east & Asia, which gives you an ideal location for travel. Kuwait is a small country and yet a very international one. Just to share with you some quick facts ;
* Kuwait has the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves.
* Kuwait has the third highest density of millionaires in the world.
* Kuwait is the second most free & progressive economy in the Middle East (#4 World Bank,2011~2014). Kuwait currency (Kuwaiti Dinar or KD) is one of the highest valued currency unit in the world.
* Kuwait is the Arab world’s largest foreign investor, with $8.4 billion in Foreign Direct Investments.
So here’s my practical guides and honest advice for making Kuwait your new home. I am living in this country for almost 8 years now and I could say that I knew how it goes here fairly well (from an Expat’s view ). My views about Kuwait evolves through time.
1.Respect Islam & the Muslim Culture
Kuwait is a Muslim country so this should be on top of your mind. Kuwait is your host country so obeying its rules and respecting its religion is the right humane thing to do. Soon you will be mingling with Muslims and exposed with their practices so better prepare yourself for a dose of culture shock. Be open-minded about it & don’t judge. Be reminded that alcohol, drugs, pornography, wild partying, and activities such as these are illegal & punishable by law. If you love pork, then you need to forget it for a while. Modesty is the theme everywhere, and although Kuwait’s Expat population grown so much from the past years, it’s still very conservative. You can find separate lines for women,and sections for men same as in their praying practices. If you are a woman, do dress accordingly so as not to attract unwanted attention and offend others. Although in Kuwait women are not required to wear Abaya or head covering like in Saudi Arabia, It is better to blend with their customs. Dress in a way that your arms & legs are covered at least while you are in public. Leave your tube tops & mini-skirts at home, you won’t be needing that in Kuwait. Don’t expect to find a club or disco either, nightlife doesn’t exists here.
You will soon find yourself getting used to the sound of the call of prayer times from the mosque completely heard inside your home. Don’t panic, It’s normal. Muslims prays 5 times daily so don’t be surprised if you see someone praying out in the sun, in the park or at work. At work, be prepared for the Holy Month of Ramadan when Muslims are Fasting. Be open minded about this and respect their customs. You will be fined and might be deported if you are caught eating in public during fasting hours.
I saw many Expats failed to understand these simple things, Don’t be like one.
2. Learn the Language
You want to go out and explore the city but you don’t know how to say the directions to the place you wanna go, let alone the taxi driver is Bengali or Egyptian who doesn’t speak English. Not a very comfortable situation ,right?
Although Kuwait’s population is very multilingual and English is widely spoken, I strongly advise you to try to learn the language. Arabic is the official language of Kuwait and most paperworks done in Ministry is written in Arabic. If you want to successfully survive on your day-to day life as an Expat, make time to learn the basics .Even right before you fly to Kuwait. Learning a language is a lifelong investment so it won’t be wasted. As for me, I really pushed myself to learn to speak Arabic and it really helps me to get on with my life here. It keeps me also sane from my work to be able to converse with others with a pick up of the language. As I mentioned in my previous post “Becoming an Expat is Hard “,on notes about learning the local language ,Google translate cannot always save your day.
3. Carefully check your fine prints.
If you came to Kuwait under contract, please make sure you check the your fine prints and your work contract along with your visa. Don’t sign anything in Arabic that you don’t understand or has not been translated for you.
If you’re Filipino overseas contract worker ( also known as OFW) make sure you register yourself in the Embassy . Kuwait has horror stories about Expats arriving here with total twist in their working permits and visas. You don’t want to fall into this mess. Kuwait has National Identification system for everyone. Your company will guide you through this.You need to undergo the Finger printing process & medical exam before you will be issued with Civil ID (Bataqa).This ID is every important . Make sure you bring this with you everywhere you go in Kuwait.
4.Business Hours in Kuwait
This is another thing to note when you moved to Kuwait.The Kuwaiti work week is mostly from Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday making up a weekend. Banks and insurance companies work Sundays through Thursdays in order to coordinate with the international money markets and many of the private offices work half days on Thursdays. The government day is from 7:300 AM to 1:30 PM in the winter and 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM in the summer. The hours of private companies vary, with some working split shifts around a long mid – day break, while others have adapted to a western work day. Shops are generally open from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM and from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM. While some malls have adapted to a 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM working day. However all timings are liable to change during Ramadan, with working hours becoming very irregular and shorter.
5.Break out from your shell & Embrace the Culture of Kuwait
Finally you’re in another country. Everything is new to your eyes. You are curious. So why not take this opportunity to explore and broaden your horizons by exploring Arab culture? Kuwait has rich culture and notable history. I have learned so much from this country over the years more than what I have read from the books.
Culture is something you need to experience & lived by, you cannot learn Culture from just reading from guide books. When I was new here, I went to interesting places, I explored Museums, going into the Souks, visiting the Friday Markets and Miya-Miya stores, walking through the neighborhood, observing, and learning from locals. I took advantage of talking to my colleagues to ask questions for situations I don’t understand. It really helped me to overcome the uneasiness I’m feeling when I moved here as a single woman. I struggled hard to overcome the feeling of helplessness & undue attention I get from the veiled women dressed in black Abayas. I had to accept that women here are different from who I am and the way that I was raised in my home country. Honestly, I felt that the locals are hostile to me because of the way I feel. This is one of the culture shock that I had to go through but it doesn’t mean that this is the norm in reality.
Be resourceful to fill in the gaps of your free times for self-growth. There are various clubs & organizations in Kuwait that you can join to do sports, crafts, photography,fine architecture, book clubs, or just touring to explore the beautiful best hidden spots and attractions.
AWARE Center is the place for Arab & Western Cultures. They have an extensive Library with English books in the GCC area if you are interested in doing a research or study. They offer classes for Kuwaiti cooking lessons, Arabic language,Islamic & Kuwaiti culture. They have a very good schedule of cultural events that will really help you feel more at home while you are in Kuwait. Through them, I have visited notable places in Kuwait that I never imagined that it exists. To name a few are the Tareq Rajab Museum, House of Mirrors , the Grand Mosque and enjoying the view in the tallest structure in the Middle East , the Liberation tower. My husband highly recommended the Arab Fund headquarters Tour where you can see beautiful architecture. I have met wonderful Expats through AWARE. If you’re interested, you can learn more about them in their website in Here.
I am so glad I have found this gem . I have felt so welcomed in their organization and If there’s any group that deserved to be lifted up, it is them. They have done a remarkable job in bridging the gaps between Expatriates and the Kuwaiti community.
You might be interested to check out the list I’ve made for fascinating free things to do to enjoy your stay in Kuwait. If you haven’t, you can find it Here.
6. The Heat in Kuwait is Real
The weather in Kuwait could be a daunting experience. For someone who is not used to the heat that could reached to 50 degrees in Summer, you might faint & have a stroke. Be prepared to handle the heat here because its real. You need to keep hydrated and well covered in this country to protect yourself. Kuwait also has occasional Sandstorms and dusty weather is a norm. I pointed this out so you might know what to expect so you can dress properly and arrange yourself to enjoy it instead of agonizing over it. Many Expats find it hard to survive in Kuwait because there is limited things to do outdoors when its scorching hot. The Arabian Gulf is easily accessible in the coastal areas of Kuwait so most Expats flocked to the beach to cool down. You can enjoy having picnics, fishing, or just laze on the shores while watching the sun sets. There are available boat trips, and various water sports activities that you can join. Aqua Park is Kuwait’s premiere water park complex located just beside the Kuwait Towers. If you are into Diving, then the Palms offers a variety of diving courses from snorkeling and entry-level diving activities . Another way to ease up the summer heat is exploring the world-class Malls in Kuwait. Shopping malls in Kuwait like The Avenues has become major tourist hub because of its beautiful architecture and global branded shops. Its the largest shopping mall in Kuwait, and still expanding. It’s really a place for the whole family. There have modern cinemas and lines of international restaurants to cater all cuisines & food preferences. You can almost find everything you need in here. Children can enjoy a wonderful time in the Kidzania, Baroue, and the Magic Planet. Swedish giant Ikea is also located just beside the Avenues so its always a famous Expat’s destination.
As an Expat here I have experienced many things that I have never expected. When I turned on the faucet, the water is hot. In the summer you don’t even need a water heater. I have learned to love Arabic foods & dishes, I have made friends, I have ridden the camels, I have made Kuwait my second home. This is how I overcome my initial shock when I came here. It is also a choice that you need to make.
I wish you all the best and here’s hoping that these things could help you survive Kuwait.
If you like this post, then you might be interested to explore my posts about Kuwait. Hit the follow Button below to subscribe on this Blog and learn more about my Expat Life.